A number of factors can lead to infertility in couples, but not all of them are medically related. Over the years several studies have been conducted to prove that there are other non-medical factors that can affect a person’s fertility.
The big question we would be asking and answering this week is: Can my lifestyle choices be a possible risk factor for my infertility?
It is amazing how much we indulge in unhealthy habits daily that cause harm to our health, reduce our quality of life and are capable of possibly causing death. Imagine if we were told that a particular tablet caused instant death most people would not even want to even get close, talk less of consuming them.
Lifestyle is defined as the particular way of living. It includes the choices we make, habits we form, and healthy activities we fail to adhere to.
Many lifestyle factors such as the age to start a family, nutrition, weight, exercise, psychological stress, environmental/occupational exposures and others can have substantial effects on fertility. Habits such as cigarette smoking, illicit drug use, alcohol and caffeine consumption has also been found to have negative impact on our fertility.
Clinical infertility as we already know is defined as the inability to become pregnant after 12 months of unprotected intercourse. It has been estimated that approximately 15 per cent of the population in industrially developed countries are affected. The causes of diagnosed infertility range from ovulatory disorder, tubal disease, endometriosis, chromosomal abnormalities, sperm factors and unexplained infertility. Lifestyle factors have had drastic impact on general health and also the capacity to reproduce. Issues such as smoking and obesity can affect general health and wellbeing. For example, smoking increases an individual’s risk of cardiovascular disease and obesity increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and some cancers etc.
How female fertility is affected by lifestyle choices
Age: This is a crucial factor when attempting pregnancy and has a pivotal role to play. The more you delay your pregnancy, the less fertile you become. This is due to the gradual reduction in the quantity and quality of a woman’s egg occurring over time due to natural aging.
• Weight: Women who are underweight or overweight are not likely to have normal ovulation. This is because both extremes condition can have negative impact on hormone production
• Diet: Maintaining healthy diet is essential to maintaining one’s fertility. Adequate nutrition helps in promoting healthy weight and hormone balance e.g clean water intake is recommended instead of sugary fizzy drinks.
• Stress: Women with higher levels of hormones linked to stress (cortisol) have more difficulty in getting and maintaining pregnancy as compared to women who experienced less stress. Stress has been found to alter hormonal levels and inhibit ovulation.
• Extreme exercise: While moderate exercise is recommended to keep fit and encourage healthy metabolism, excessive exercise has been found to impact negatively on ovulation.
• Safe sex: Unprotected sex sure predisposes to sexual transmitted diseases which are major causes of infertility e.g. Gonorrhea and Chlamydia. The use of condom, fidelity or abstinence for unmarried individuals remains the best option to stay safe and healthy
• Smoking: Overall risk of infertility was 95 per cent for smoker compared to non-smoker, with menopause reported to occur one to four years earlier for women who smoke compared to non-smokers. Recent study showed an increased thickness of the outer covering of female egg (zona pellucida) in smokers which makes it more difficult for sperm to penetrate. In female the contents of cigarette may affect the follicular micro environment and other hormones.
Women have a significant delay in conception independent of other factors associated with female exposure to both active and passive smoking. Almost twice as many IVF cycles were needed to achieve pregnancies for smokers compared with non-smoker. A large study of women undergoing first IVF cycle reported that there was 28 per cent decrease in life birth rate for smoker compared to non-smoker.
• Caffeine: The stimulant properties of caffeine used in most beverages (coffee, tea and soft drinks) and some other food such as chocolates have been reported to prolong the time of pregnancy. Although the mechanism for this is still unclear, caffeine may affect female reproduction by targeting ovulation and corpus luteal function negatively alternating levels of hormone.
• Alcohol: A known teratogen agent (an agent or factor which causes malformation of an embryo) and consumption has been reported to decrease fertility, although the level of consumption associated with risk is unclear. Excessive consumption is known to be dangerous for the unborn child causing low birth weight and prematurity.
• Cosmetics: Most cosmetics, including nail polish, anti-bacterial soap, anti-aging creams, hair sprays and perfumes have negative effect on the female fertility due to toxic chemicals/heavy metals eg lead present in some of them. The use of cosmetics have been associated with increased risk of spontaneous abortion and infertility in some women.
• Adequate sleep: Getting a good night’s rest helps to refresh and restore the brain and organ system functioning, thus regulating important body hormones including fertility related hormones. Sleep enhances release of the hormone LH (Luteinizing Hormone) which usually enhances maturation and rupture of the egg in the process called “ovulation” thus increasing the chances of achieving pregnancy.